DRC & Research News

This page shares the latest news in T1D research and DRC’s community.

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DRC-Funded Scientist Creates New Insulin-Producing Cells to Fight Type 1 Diabetes

Thanks in part to funding from the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC), Dr. Kristin Mussar was able to conduct an in-depth study regarding how to stimulate the body’s own cells to create new insulin-producing cells that may help treat type 1 diabetes (T1D). In individuals with T1D, the immune system attacks insulin-producing cells, destroying them and leaving the body unable to effectively regulate blood sugar.

The human body is filled with myeloid cells that all differentiate to help grow, maintain, and repair various organs. When these cells are depleted, it impacts organ health. For instance, lack of insulin-producing cells results in diabetes. However, Dr. Mussar and her team discovered that there is a population of macrophages – white blood cells that recirculate throughout the body constantly monitoring the health status of all tissues – that instruct insulin-producing cells to grow in the perinatal stage of pancreas development. During this period of prolific growth, enough insulin-producing cells are created to support glucose homeostasis throughout one’s life.

Dr. Mussar found that there is a special population of these cells that act as cargos of potent growth factors for the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. If these cells are prevented from entering the pancreas, the growth of insulin-producing cells is arrested and diabetes ensues. This lack of cell growth, as well as cell destruction, are issues that researchers have been trying to remedy through various strategies for treating T1D.

One avenue of treatment that is being explored is finding ways to use the body’s own cells and processes to support insulin production. Current challenges in treatment include the constant monitoring and accurate dosing of insulin, as well as the use of immunosuppressants or other medications to prevent the body from destroying modified cells or specialized therapies. Using the body’s own cells can help reduce risk of immune attack or rejection.

To this effect, Dr. Mussar’s research revealed that there are precursors to these special macrophages that exist within the bone marrow of adults. When these precursors are injected into the blood stream, they are able to signal growth of insulin-producing cells. This discovery raises hopes that, by dispatching these pro-regenerative cells from the bone marrow to injured pancreatic islets, it may be possible to enhance regeneration of insulin-producing cells in individuals with type 1 diabetes. This may in turn help to stabilize blood sugar naturally using the body’s own cells.

The Diabetes Research Connection is proud to have played a role in making Dr. Mussar’s research possible by providing funding that enabled her to continue moving forward with her project and eventually get the results published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

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Diabetes Research Connection 2016 Year in Review

This past year has been a big one for us at Diabetes Research Connection. Our donors have stepped up to the plate and helped us fund research towards treating, curing and preventing type 1 diabetes. In fact, in 2016 we were able to raise more than $490,000 thanks to the support of our donors.

We’re committed to keeping our backers updated on all projects and DRC happenings, so we wanted to take time at the beginning of 2017 to remind ourselves and our donors of all the amazing things that happened in 2016.

In January, Sangeeta Dhawan, Ph.D. at UCLA School of Medicine started off the year with her project, Making More and Better Insulin Producing Cells with Cell Regeneration. We were able to help her raise more than $30,000.

Dr. Sangeeta Dhawan

 

In February, we launched another project, Replacement Beta-Cells From An Unexpected Source, a research study conducted by Joseph Lancman, Ph.D. — Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. We were able to raise more than $45,000 in support of this project.

Dr.Lancman in Lab

In April, we celebrated World Health Day. This year’s theme was Beat Diabetes, and we encouraged our donors and supporters to get involved in the global fight against diabetes.

In May, another project launched, and we were able to help Peter Thompson, Ph.D. at University of California San Francisco raise more than $30,000 for his project, Regrowth of Beta Cells with Small Molecule Therapy.

Peter Thompson - Regrowth of beta cells with small molecule therapy

Another new project came online in July; Agata Jurcyzk, Ph.D. of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, What is the Connection Between T1D and Depression?

Agata-Headshot

August was a busy month for us at DRC. In mid-August, we partnered with the diaTribe Foundation for Brews & Blood Sugar. More than 100 people joined us to samples beer from one of San Diego’s premier breweries, to learn how different varieties of beer affect blood sugar and support efforts to find solutions for those with diabetes. We also launched our T1D resource center in August, where we’ve curated the best information out there pertaining to T1D. Lastly, we launched a project to raise funds for Gene-Specific Models and Therapies for Type 1 Diabetes, research being conducted by Jeremy Racine, Ph.D. of The Jackson Laboratory.

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In September, we were honored to be featured by The Huffington Post. We also launched our campaign on Gladitood, which helped us raise money and support for our General Fund as we began to close out the year.

In November, we celebrated National Diabetes Month. As a part of these celebrations, we launched our Double Your Dollars campaign, where every dollar donated to the General Fund was matched 100%. We upped the ante on Cyber Monday, doubling each match, making donations go even further. All told, we raised more than $80,000 in November. Additionally, we hosted a Crowdfunding Science event on Cyber Monday, where attendees joined three Rancho Santa Fe Foundation Donor Advised Fund families to learn about an exciting, successful and innovative crowdfunding platform for scientific research.

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In December, we started a new blog series to help our donors meet the board, and we began by introducing you to Alberto Hayek, M.D., President of DRC.

This past year was monumental for DRC, and 2017 is already off to a great start with the launch of a new research project, Determining How Other Cells (Non-Beta) In The Pancreas Affect Diabetes by Jeffrey D. Serrill, Ph.D. of City of Hope, Los Angeles, California. We’re looking forward to seeing what the year holds as we fund research projects that will bring us closer to preventing, treating and curing T1D.

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alberto hayek

Meet the DRC Board: Alberto Hayek, M.D.

At the Diabetes Research Connection, our passion is working together with the scientific community to find a way to treat, cure and prevent type 1 diabetes, and our board is dedicated to helping achieve our vision.

2016 has been a monumental year for us, as we’ve raised more money than ever before for early-career scientists’ T1D research. One of our core values is to build a strong connection between the board and our supporters. Thus, we’ve interviewed members of our board to find out more about the impact T1D has had on their lives, why they choose to work with DRC and much more.

First up, get to know one of DRC’s founders, Dr. Alberto Hayek.

Alberto Hayek, M.D., President of DRC

Dr. Hayek is the Scientific Director at San Diego’s Scripps Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at UCSD. He is a world-renowned diabetes expert in pancreatic islet research and experimental cell replacement therapies for T1D.

We asked Dr. Hayek a few questions to help our donors get to know him better.

How have you been affected by T1D?

Taking care of children with T1D gave me a first-hand glimpse of the struggles this disease causes for patients and their families.

What is the most rewarding part of serving on the DRC board for you personally?

The opportunity to provide funding for junior investigators in T1D as they take their first steps for independent thinking in research and care has been tremendously rewarding.

What is your favorite holiday tradition, related to T1D or not?

I spend a day during Christmas with my grandchildren, ages 3 and 6, making sandwiches for homeless people in San Diego.

Once again, we want to extend a heartfelt thank you to all our donors for helping to make 2016 such a successful year for DRC, and helping to fund innovative T1D research. We’re looking forward to all that 2017 will bring, and we’re hopeful that a year from now we’ll be even closer to eradicating T1D.

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An Important Talk About The Importance Of Diabetes Awareness

Original article published by The Huffington Post. Click here to read the original article.

National Diabetes Awareness Month is right around the corner, and it brings up the concern regarding how huge of an issue diabetes really is. A spokesperson from Diabetes Research Connection has agreed to answer some questions regarding Type 1 diabetes and the research that is being conducted to understand this autoimmune disease more.

1. Can you tell us a little more about type 1 diabetes; how is it different from type 2?

Type 1 diabetes (T1D) is a chronic autoimmune disease, like multiple sclerosis and muscular dystrophy. T1D is the result of the human immune system mistaking the body’s beta cells, which produce insulin, for foreign cells and destroys them. These beta cells produce insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. A person with T1D must constantly test his or her blood sugar and inject insulin or use an insulin pump to normalize blood glucose levels. Currently, there is no known cure for T1D.

Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is much more common than T1D. While the causes for T2D aren’t fully understood, excess weight, inactivity, age and genetics contribute to the development of this disease. Patients with T2D make insulin, but their cells can’t respond to it adequately. In some cases, T2D can be controlled by exercise, diet and weight loss.

Diabetes is the leading cause of adult blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, amputations, nerve damage and other complications. This is why the Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) supports research designed to prevent, cure and better the disease.

2. Explain to us what you do to research Type 1 Diabetes.

DRC is a nonprofit organization headquartered in San Diego, California. Established in 2012, DRC’s mission is to connect donors with early-career scientists enabling them to perform peer-reviewed, novel research designed to prevent and cure T1D, minimize its complications and improve the quality of life for those with the disease.

Researchers from across the country submit a grant application to members of DRC’s Scientific Review Committee, which is comprised of over 80 of the leading U.S. diabetes experts. Each research proposal is carefully scrutinized for innovation, value and feasibility.

Approved projects receive up to $50,000 in as few as 12 weeks. 100% of funds go directly to each scientist’s lab. To ensure transparency, each investigator provides updates to donors on their project. Final outcomes are posted on DRC’s website. This openness informs the research community of credible, new science. Research redundancy is less likely to occur, resulting in donated and government funds being used more efficiently.

3. There is no cure for Type 1 Diabetes, but do you think that could change anytime soon?

The discovery that insulin injections could treat T1D almost 100 years ago is the seminal finding and access to insulin is a daily necessity for people with this disease. There are a number of current research efforts to improve how external insulin is given in order to most closely control blood glucose levels, andthat is perhaps the most exciting area of medical research in our future. There are also many scientists working on preventing the onset of T1D or curing it after is has developed. Cells that can replace those lost in T1D and T2D are now a reality in several laboratories worldwide. It may be possible to create a new type of beta cell supply derived from stem cells. By using gene splicing, engineered beta cells may avoid rejection by the immune system. This futuristic approach has tremendous potential providing that the protein responsible for the immune attack to beta cells is identified, successfully targeted and silenced. Lastly, these designer cells should perform as intended without adverse side effects. A clinical trial has begun using human beta cells derived from embryonic stem cells and implanted under the skin in protective capsules to avoid their immune rejection.”

4. What are some of the greatest breakthroughs your scientists have had on a project?

Todd Brusko, Ph.D., from the University of Florida, completed his project, “Engineering Immune Cells To Stop Autoimmune Attacks” in December of 2015. The goal of his DRC supported project was to create a technology platform that would enable an optimized Treg cell (a specialized set of white cells that appear to interfere with the immune damage to beta cells) therapy for the treatment of type 1 diabetes. Therefore, Dr. Brusko set out to manufacture biodegradable nanoparticles that would release a Treg growth and survival factor binding to Treg cell surfaces. In animal experiments, his initial data supports the notion of improved engraftment and function. These findings offer critical proof-of-principle data that is closely watched by those with T1D because it addresses an important hurdle that must be overcome for a cure. If successful, this method will increase the number of protective cells which can help prevent further destruction of remaining beta cells.

Kristin Mussar, Ph.D. Candidate, from the University of Washington, completed her project, “Creating New Insulin-Producing Cells To Repair Damaged Pancreas” in August of 2016. In her project, Mussar identified a population of white cells called macrophages residing in the pancreas of newborns that is necessary for islet cells to expand in number as well as to mature into functional insulin-producing cells. Mussar found that a functionally similar population capable of boosting islet proliferation exists in the bone marrow of adult individuals, which suggests that there might be potential for islet repair in adults. The lab Mussar conducts her research in is currently investigating whether this bone marrow population can be used as a cell therapy to enhance the repair process of islet cells in adult mouse models of injury. This project is important because it has identified a different set of white blood cells that may allow the proliferation of insulin producing cells in the pancreas of diabetic patients, offering hope for a cure.

5. November is National Diabetes Awareness Month, how will your organization be promoting the Cause?

We’re launching a 30-day matching gift campaign to promote our General Fund. The fund covers program costs that support our research projects, as well as operating expenses. During the Double Your Dollars for Diabetes campaign, DRC will match donations made to the fund (up to $25,000 in matching), and on Giving Tuesday, DRC will quadruple its matching contribution. In addition, we are encourage holiday shoppers to purchase gifts through the AmazonSmile Program and select DRC as their nonprofit of choice to receive a small donation from the online retailer. More information will be available on our website prior to our November 1st launch.

6. Where can people learn more about your research projects?

People can learn more about DRC and our projects by visiting our website at drcsite.wpengine.com. We encourage visitors to join the DRC family by signing up for our monthly newsletter or becoming a donor.

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Get Involved in Innovative Type 1 Diabetes Research

We were established in 2012 by five proponents of diabetes research, and our visionis to support innovative scientific inquiry until type 1 diabetes is eliminated. However, we can’t do it without the valuable contributions from our donors and supporters.

Want to get involved in type 1 diabetes research? Read below to find out how you can make a difference.

Help Fund Type 1 Diabetes Research

Many scientific breakthroughs come from the inventiveness of early-career scientists. Unfortunately, mainstream funding rarely goes to support these innovative researchers, with 97% of funding for type 1 diabetes research going to established scientists. This means that it’s often hard for new diabetes research ideas to get off the ground.

That’s where the Diabetes Research Connection comes in; we grant up to $50,000 to support type 1 diabetes research from early-career scientists.

Consider financially supporting one of the following type 1 diabetes research projects.

Gene-Specific Models and Therapies for Type 1 Diabetes

Multiple genetic factors contribute to type 1 diabetes, but researchers are limited to using mice models with one genetic profile. Jeremy Racine, Ph.D. of The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine is working to create a new mouse model with a genetic blank slate for insertion of relevant HLA gene variants that are related to the development of diabetes. Additionally, he plans to test a therapy that has been specifically designed for a diabetes susceptible gene variation known as HLA-A*0201 (A2.1). Click here to support this project. 

Identify Biomarkers for Susceptibility to Both Type 1 Diabetes and Mental Disorders

Recent studies have found that those with diabetes have a much higher rate of depression, and young people with type 1 diabetes have a much higher rate of suicide than their peers. Agata Jurcyzk, Ph.D., a research instructor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is working to identify genetic signatures in white blood cells that distinguish non-progressor T1D patients and T1D patients that progress to psychiatric illness. Click here to support this project.

Regrowth of Beta Cells with Small Molecule Therapy

Type 1 diabetes develops when beta cells are destroyed and the body can no longer produce enough insulin to convert the sugar we eat into energy. Peter Thompson, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of California San Francisco Diabetes Center, is working to identify new events during the progression to T1D in order to design new interventions that could prevent or reverse the progression to T1D. Click here to support this project. 

Replacement Beta-Cells From An Unexpected Source

A cure for diabetes will involve replacing the insulin-producing beta cells that have been lost due to the disease. Joseph Lancman, Ph.D. of Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute is researching to find a way to make in vivo cell lineage reprogramming safe and practical. This will make it possible to convert nearly any cell type into replacement beta cells, without removing them from the body. Click here to support this project.

Participate in Diabetes Research Studies

Diabetes Research Connection is currently partnering with four great research studies, but there are many more type 1 diabetes studies currently taking place. If you would like to get involved in these, consider participating in a type 1 diabetes clinical research study. We suggest checking out Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet.

TrialNet is a network of researchers seeking to prevent, delay or reverse the progression of type 1 diabetes. The organization works with 18 Clinical Centers in the U.S. and across the globe, and also partners with more than 150 medical centers and doctors’ offices.

Studies are available for those recently diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, as well as those who have relatives with type 1 diabetes who are at a greater risk of developing the disease. You’ll need to participate in a screening to find out if you are eligible to join a TrialNet study.

For more information about type 1 diabetes research, sign up for our monthly newsletter!

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A New Approach to Diabetes Discovery

Welcome to the Diabetes Research Connection, the first nonprofit to use crowd funding to enable innovative diabetes investigations.
  • We give early-career researchers the opportunity to innovate in an environment where conventional research continues to win most of the available government funding. We give people affected by diabetes an opportunity to make a uniquely personal impact in the fight against this disease.
  • We use the expertise of more than 70 top diabetes researchers to assure that projects approved are MERITORIOUS and INNOVATIVE.
  • We have no employees, so our overhead is minimal. Donations go to science, not operations.
  • We publish ALL research results, because they add to our body of knowledge.
  • Donors can choose the research projects they wish to support.  Not only do donors know EXACTLY where their contribution is going, they can follow the scientist’s progress throughout the investigation.
Imagine being in on the ground floor of a major discovery!
Diabetes Research Connection Logo
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